The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) jointly administer the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System to study trends of antibiotic resistance originating in our nation’s food supply. Stephanie Strom reviewed a recent government report that showed high amounts of bacterial contamination of meat. In addition, these bacteria — enterococcus, E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter — are demonstrating more and more antibiotic resistance:
More than half of samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef collected from supermarkets for testing by the federal government contained a bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to a new report highlighting the findings.
Of course, the usual suspects have come out to deny the science:
Academic veterinarians who work with the International Food Information Council, financed in part by major food companies, and with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which receives some financing from veterinary pharmaceutical companies, criticized the report as misleading.
“The No. 1 misunderstanding about antibiotics in animal agriculture is that it is not understood well enough that antibiotics are used to keep animals healthy, period,” said Randall Singer, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Minnesota.
Professor Singer noted the limited number of samples in the federal data, 480 samples each of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef, and chicken breasts, wings and thighs, compared with the huge amount of meat sold in the United States. “We should not assume that when we find resistance to antibiotics in humans, it means it was caused by the use of antibiotics in animals,” he said.
Of course we should! Let’s correct the number one misunderstanding about antibiotics in animals: Antibiotics should be used to help sick animals get better, NOT to “keep animals healthy, period.” Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria — those that colonize us and those that make us sick — are exposed to too much antibiotic. This is the number one misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance in humans: people don’t become resistant to antibiotics! It’s the bacteria that become resistant and they really don’t care who — man, woman, child, cow — is getting the antibiotic.
Here’s the problem:
The Agriculture Department has confirmed that almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture, and public health authorities around the world increasingly are warning that antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels.
“We don’t have a problem with treating animals with antibiotics when they are sick,” Ms. Undurraga said. “But just feeding them antibiotics to make them get bigger faster at a lower cost poses a real problem for public health.”
There is more science that exposes professor Singer’s bias:
Two species of the bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium, are the third-leading cause of infections in the intensive care units of United States hospitals.
Some 87 percent of the meat the researchers collected contained either normal or antibiotic-resistant enterococcus, suggesting that most of the meat came in contact with fecal material at some point.
“That’s a big percentage they’re throwing around, but that organism itself on food or in an animal has little or no relationship to human health,” Professor Singer said.
“They” are not “throwing around” anything except results of a scientific inquiry. Bacteria don’t care if they colonize peacefully in a pigs nose, wreak havoc in a child’s intestine, or sit in a pile of dung. Bacteria will eventually become resistant to the antibiotics they are exposed to, whether taken by a pig, child, or cow. Bacteria will do anything they can to repel threats to their well-being (just like you and me), and they do that by becoming resistant to that threat. That doesn’t affect just one of us. It affects all of us.